Supplements: Do They Work? Are They Safe?

By: Molly Price, DVM

TVMA Member
Allen, TX.

Published February 2021

Veterinarians are asked every day about a variety of supplements. Nutritional supplements are “non-food” products containing vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes and/or amino acids. Most pets who eat a healthy, well-balanced diet do not need supplements. However, there are some specific medical conditions in pets that can be helped with nutritional supplements. Cranberry extract helps patients who are at high risk for urinary tract infections. Glucosamine and chondroitinis a dietary supplement and a vital part of cartilage. sulfate assist patients with degenerative joint disease. Omega fatty acids serve patients with dermatological disease, degenerative joint disease and inflammatory bladder disease. SAM-e and silymarin ease patients with liver disease. Probiotics help patients with gastrointestinal disease, and antioxidants aid patients with brain aging changes.

Many people assume supplements are safer than prescription medications since they are marked as “natural,” but people may not know that supplements are not regulated or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With no direct oversight, safety and efficacy trials or controls, often “claims” on veterinary supplement labels may be vague or even false.

A study in 2010 of four different veterinary products found 50 percent of products were mislabeled, with some products containing no active ingredient despite claims on the label. This information is unsettling, and we need to be careful when selecting and administering supplements for our pets. The good news is two organizations regularly monitor supplements for pets: National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) and Consumerlab.com.

The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) certifies that the product contains quality ingredients with the correct production process and provides continuous data monitoring, while Consumerlab.com checks the product for quality, heavy metal toxicity and correct labeling.

Dr. Alice Jeromin, a former hospital pharmacist, current board-certified veterinary dermatologist, professor and previous chair of the supplemental committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Biologics and Therapeutic Agents, states that there are many important questions to consider when selecting a supplement for [our] patients:

  • Who formulates the product?
  • What expertise do they have?
  • Who can you call if you have questions regarding the product, need advice or to report a pet who is experiencing an adverse reaction?
  • How long has the company been selling pet supplements?
  • What testing standards and quality control does the company have?
  • Is the supplement tested by an independent lab?
  • Does the product label have a lot number and expiration date? If not, how can it be traced if an adverse reaction occurs?
  • Is the manufacturer willing to disclose the point of origin of the product’s ingredients?

Dr. Jeromin warns that manufacturers of supplements may change the source of origin of an ingredient at any time and suppliers may sell more than one version of an ingredient. These different versions often vary in cost and quality.

Before starting any veterinary supplements for your pet(s), educate yourself on the source and quality of the product. Consult Consumerlab.com and check for NASC certification to make sure each product is effective and safe. Ask your veterinarian if a particular supplement is right for your pet’s medical needs. There are many benefits to supplement use but also many factors to consider before adding them to your pet’s regimen.


References:

Jeromin, A, Not All Supplements Are Created Equal. Veterinary Practice News. September 2019, pp24-25.

Molly Price, DVM, is a graduate of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Allen, Texas. She is a relief veterinarian and is enthusiastic about educating clients and staff members.

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